Southwest Wake: Sports

Cardinal Gibbons first baseman balances baseballs and robots

Cardinal Gibbons High doesn’t have a robot that can hit a pitched ball, but maybe junior first baseman Brian Nelson will help design one some day.

Nelson has doubled up this spring, pitching and playing the infield for the undefeated Crusaders’ baseball team and helping develop the school’s fleet of robots.

“I had heard about the Gibbons robotics club while I was in the eighth grade,” Nelson said. “I was interested in science and gadgets and knew I wanted to be involved.”

This isn’t Robbie the Robot of “The Forbidden Planet” or “Lost in Space” or even the battling robots with drills and saws of the television show “Robot Wars.”

Gibbons competes in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science Tech) program and competes in the Tech division. Each spring clubs are given a set of the tasks to be done by their robot that year and teams have six weeks to design and assemble the a machine that can perform those tasks.

This year the robots had to climb a ramp and hang autonomously, without the use of remote controls. The robots also had to pick up blocks and put the blocks in a basket and to push other blocks.

Teams could have used a kit to build their machines, although the Gibbons club milled many of their own pieces. The club even has patents pending from past years for a wheel and a hook designed by students.

The Crusaders’ robotic club advanced through the state competition at N.C. A&T University to the super regional in San Antonio, Texas. The team went 3 and 3 in its national matches and finished around the middle of the 72 teams.

“We had some software problems,” said Nelson, who missed the trip to San Antonio because of baseball commitments.

He usually is able to balance ‘bots and balls.

The robotic club meets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from two to three hours while the baseball team did much of its off-season work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Most robot days Nelson also got in his baseball work.

Gibbons coach Jim Liebler said Nelson is the best defensive first basemen that he has ever coached and is one of the most hard working players. He was 2-1 as a pitcher in 2013 with a 2.80 earned run average.

“He is highly intelligent and his best attribute is his ability to analyze his mechanics and make adjustments,” Liebler said. “He also is one of our best pitchers. He is highly efficient on the mound and has a multitude of pitches he can command.”

Diane Ritollone, a Gibbons science teacher and the robotics faculty adviser, said Nelson did much of the milling of parts.

“It was a real team effort, but he worked on it very hard,” she said.